Mar 20th, Does Everything Really Happen For a Reason?, with Rev. Kally Elliott
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Mar 20th: Does Everything Really Happen For a Reason?, with Rev. Kally Elliott.
I have no green thumb. If you need proof, just take a look at our backyard. Almost three years ago, we brought Hazel, our German Shepherd, home, and she had her way with our in ground sprinkler system. And let’s just say it is no longer in ground, nor does it sprinkle. So I guess it’s a good thing we no longer have grass to keep watered also, thanks to Hazel.
Instead, we have a dirt pile with a big pine tree that our neighbors are trying to convince us to cut down because it blocks their view. But as it is the only living thing remaining in our backyard, we’d feel like total gardening failures if we also lost the tree. And we’re not failures. I mean, if you think about it, we’re actually saving the Earth. We’re environmentalists.
At the very least, we are saving water because we’ve also quit watering our front yard. I mean, who knew you had to get your sprinkler system blown out before the first freeze of the year? We didn’t. So we are embracing the natural landscape of our heavenly high desert. We just hope our homeowners association will embrace it with us.
This Christmas, my stepmother gave me one of those plants that comes with its roots in a big wax ball. Inwardly, I groaned when she presented me with a plant. I mean, doesn’t she know I can only keep so many things alive? And right now I’m completely maxed out with my four kids and a dog. I think she may have sensed my fear, because upon handing it to me, my stepmother declared, you don’t even have to do anything to it.
And it blooms. What a magic plant did you say? And it did. By Christmas morning, the magic plant had a huge, beautiful flower. But by the first of the year, the magic died and we were left with a wax ball.
I didn’t throw it away, though. I mean, if it had bloomed once under my not so watchful eye, perhaps there was still hope for it. So I left it there a wax ball on my kitchen counter. And within a few weeks, magic happened again. This time there was no Bloom, but there was an iffy greenish yellow stalk sprouting from the wax ball.
I mean, death and resurrection all in one wax ball on my kitchen counter. Recently, I’ve begun seeing Daffodil stems sprouting from the ground. Not in my yard, let’s be clear. But in my neighbor’s yard. The stems have been poking out their heads for the last few weeks.
A sign spring might be just around the corner, but then it snowed. So maybe the sign was that winter wasn’t going to give up that easily. In Cave, Ukraine, some of the trees have buds. It’s still winter there. But spring is a fighter, and so are these trees, and they are beginning to bud and to Bloom anyway.
I know the signs of spring. Come February and Earth, I begin living for the signs of spring. They are hard to miss. Tiny buds on branches, daffodils and then tulips peeking from beneath the dirt, grass Greening in my neighbor’s yards, baby deer darting across the road right in front of my car as I Slam on my brakes and hope for the best, for the deer and for my car. And even as the world seems to be crashing down around us, I’ve begun noticing some of these signs of spring.
When I lived in the south, we always knew when it was going to rain. There was a musty smell that rolled in clouds, darkened humidity sunk to the Earth like a wet blanket. And sure enough, shortly after seeing and feeling those signs, the sky would open up and we would run for cover. Jesus says to the crowds and to his disciples, when you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say it is going to rain. And so it happens.
And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, there will be scorching heat and it happens. We’re good at seeing what is predictable and logical. We know the signs. We like signs. They give us certainty and rules to live by.
Even I know the signs a plant gives when it needs water. Its leaves begin to Brown and wither. And I know that if this plant does not receive water, it will surely die. When someone spends years smoking, we’re sad, but we’re rarely surprised when we hear the words lung cancer. My dad did cancer research at UCSD while I was growing up.
He’d often come home to find his teenage daughter, me outside slathered in baby oil, lying under the UV rays of the Southern California Sun, Browning and crisping myself like a piece of bacon. He’d rightfully get upset and start yelling, you’re going to get skin cancer as an adult. Every time a new mole pops up on my aging skin, panic grips me and I quickly make an appointment with my dermatologist. I’m waiting to hear those words skin cancer. And when I do, I’ll have nothing to blame but my own teenage vanity.
But what about when my friend’s five year old nephew, Parker, became feverishly sick at daycare and was sent home to get well? Only he did not get well. Instead, a few days later, his parents heard the life altering words brain tumor. And a year later, their precious five year old was gone. Or what about when an apartment building or a hospital or a humanitarian corridor?
Or mothers giving birth? Or sick children, doctors and nurses trying desperately to keep people alive, families trying to get somewhere safe? What happens when they get bombed? When the unthinkable happens? The unpredictable, the illogical, the horrific, the thing that defies our wellstructured?
Rules for how to live well, many of us, me included, are quick to blame, to jump to conclusions, even to wonder, did they or did I do something wrong? Surely there has to be more to the story. There has to be a logical reason this awful thing happened. A guilty verdict must be pronounced upon victims that were never on trial. Jesus, did you hear about the Galileans, our neighbors, our friends, even some of our family members?
They were among those murdered by Pilate when they were just going to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice. They didn’t do anything to deserve that. Or what about those 18 who died when the Tower of Siloam was it called anyway? It fell on them. Come on.
Did they do something to tick off God? There’s got to be more to the story than faulty construction. There’s something we’re missing, Jesus. Something we are not being told. There’s more to this story, something that could make it more understandable, more palatable.
Jesus, how are we supposed to interpret the signs? Do you think the Galileans brought this upon themselves? Or those poor folks buried in the rubble of the collapsed tower deserved it? No. No, to both of those questions.
Unequivocally, undeniably. No way did God want that for or do that to them. No, that is not how God works. No, Jesus says. These questions the people throw at Jesus make me think of the questions author Kate Bowler had to field from wellmeaning but annoying people when she was only 35 years old and in the throes of stage four colon cancer, she writes in her book no Cure for Being Human.
Most everyone I met was dying to make me certain. They wanted me to know, without a doubt, that there is a hidden logic to the seeming chaos. Even when I was still in the hospital, a neighbor came to the door and told my husband that everything happens for a reason. I’d love to hear it, he replied. Pardon?
She said, startled. The reason my wife is dying, he said.
But what if everything doesn’t happen for a reason? What if there is no rhyme, no reason? What if life just happens and God doesn’t have a plan for my life or for your life, but simply promises to go with us no matter what happens? What if bad things happen to good people? And just because we know Jesus does not mean we get a pass from the reality of life?
This is not good PR definitely not a selling point for Christianity. And it’s also not a free path for the tyrants of our world. Pilate mixing the blood of the sacrifices with the Galileans and other short men who will not be named, those terrorizing innocent people with murderous acts of horror because they have fragile egos, but not because God strikes down sinners, but because we strike down each other, because the world is broken, because death has entered the world. But Jesus is clear. God does not cause suffering, and Jesus continues.
Any of these tragedies could have just as easily befallen you, because sometimes there is no logic, no predictability and sometimes bad things do happen to good people. So he says, it’d be best if you repent before death comes for you. Yikes. And I know another uplifting Lenton sermon on death from Cali. And I also know I’m beginning to sound like one of those billboards that you see littering the interstate, usually in the south.
Repent or perish, turn or burn. The time is now. But Jesus sense of urgency isn’t misplaced, because Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and I think he has a fair idea of what may be in store for him in the coming weeks. And because the people are us still aren’t getting it. He tells them a parable about an unpredictable fig tree, a tree that after three long years in the soil, is still not bearing any figs.
As any logical person with a green thumb might surmise, the barren tree is wasting soil. Something else could be planted in its stead, so the land owner orders it to be chopped down, effective immediately. To be honest, I have wrestled with this parable. Who is the landowner? The gardener?
The tree, am I? The tree is God. The landowner is Jesus, the gardener. It all makes my head hurt. But that’s the thing about parables.
There is no making logical sense of them. Parables don’t play by rules. Instead, they are paintings of God’s dream for us, a vision that teases our eyes to broaden our view and place ourselves within the story. Sometimes the characters are us, sometimes the characters are God. Sometimes the characters are simply fig trees.
But parables are always fluid and imaginative, complex and simple, particular and yet expansive. So the best we can do is to try to find the good news within the image painted for us. And even though at first read, I think God is the landowner, ready to chop down the unfruitful tree, I have to remember that Jesus said to repent, and Jesus is not an itinerant preacher, hell bent on getting us back on the straight and narrow. To repent is to change one’s mind. It’s to change perspectives.
It’s to discover something new. And maybe that’s what Jesus is trying to give the crowd and his disciples and us all along. A new perspective, a different way of seeing, a discovery about life, about God, about themselves. What if God is not the land owner ready to chop down the unfruitful tree? What if, instead, you could discover that God is more like the gardener, the one who is pleading and advocating for you, wanting so badly to dig around the roots of your life, trying everything to bring you to full life?
Repent? What if we don’t get an ending to this parable? What if we never find out what happens to the tree because God is still at work, still tending us and caring for us, even as we face this unpredictable life, even as we stare down that which would harm us? Repent now I can’t reconcile the way the world is Jarred by events that are wonderful and those that are horrible. I can’t wrap my mind around why some people get an awful diagnosis While others skip out of the hospital high on a second chance at life.
I can’t fathom why a maternity hospital or humanitarian corridors and apartment buildings would be the target of bombs and I can’t begin to speak to your tragedies or sorrow. But Jesus is staring down the road to the cross and he, too will face the unthinkable, the illogical, the horror. And his friends and family will gather around him in imperfect love for him So that he might know that he is not alone. And maybe, just maybe, as he breathes his last suffering an unjust death, we will discover that God has not abandoned us. Nor is God looking to condemn, nor cut down, but is in all life and death with us.
We are not alone there’s a Ukrainian woman named Maya that I’ve been following on Facebook. She posts updates regarding her family’s experience of living in cave during this tragic war. Recently, she wrote, we made our trip to the store to get some food and cleaning supplies. It’s negative three degrees Celsius. But it is sunny and the sky is beautifully blue and it feels like spring.
In spite of ongoing pressure, Keiv citizens continue to amaze with their resilience and dignity. We know we might come under siege, but people are not hoarding food. There is plenty of bread, vegetables, fruits. There is fresh meat. But it’s not just food that people are buying in the store.
I saw people buying seeds. Of course they were. It’s spring. We need to start planting vegetables and flowers soon to plant seeds during a war. That’s not logical.
A day later, she posted a video of her Church choir singing together and she wrote, maybe our choir will not have enough time to rehearse for the Easter service this year. Though I hope they will still this year was going to be special. A few men joined the choir.
We are not alone we are not alone
friends the song they were singing was we are not alone we are not alone we are not alone we are not, not alone God is with us. Amen.